The General Epistles

An introductory historical and exegetical study working toward practical applications in selected passages from the General Epistles


Trinity College of Biblical Studies-Free Online Bible College

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Description:  This is a course on the General Epistles, their content, their context, their interpretation, and their theology.  In the course of the semester, we will study Jude, James, Peter, and The Epistles of John. the Jewish and Greco-Roman contexts out of which they arose; various types of interpretative methods used to study the epistles; and theological themes in the epistle.  We will work to draw this knowledge together into a means for thinking about the General Epistles in our contemporary context. 


COURSE OBJECTIVES:  By the end of this course you will be able to:

            Employ a range of exegetical approaches relevant to the interpretation of the General Epistles, and to apply those approaches to other NT books of similar genre;

            Understand the General Epistles within their socio-historical, literary, and canonical contexts;

            Identify central issues in the critical study of the General Epistles;

            Articulate the importance of one's own presuppositions in the task of interpretation;

            Articulate primary theological and ethical concerns of the General Epistles;

            Demonstrate awareness of how the theological and ethical concerns of the General Epistles contribute to those of the canon and of constructive theology and ethics;

            Differentiate between critical and homiletic/devotional commentaries and studies of the General Epistles and other NT books; and

            Evaluate critically the usefulness of secondary literature in the study of the General Epistles.

Students also should be able to:

            Use Greek-based language tools to demonstrate proficiency in lexical semantics;

            Use Greek-based language tools to identify grammatical constructions (i.e, with regard to sentence structure and use of clauses);

            Use Greek-based language tools to engage in syntactical analyses (i.e, with regard to verbal aspect, mood, and voice; use of the genitive and dative cases).


Course Requirements:

(1) Required Reading  (10%):

(2) Annotated chapter outlines of James (3% x 5 = 15%): For each chapter of James, you will make an outline of the chapter.

(3) Interpretive Assignments (10% x 2 = 20%): On 3 class sessions prepare in advance and turn in at the beginning of the session an interpretive assignment addressing a pericope within the chapter assigned for that class session.  Interpretive assignments should be approximately 4 double spaced pages (i.e., approx. 1,000 words).  For more information on these assignments see the document in the Assignments folder in the Course Center.

(4) Theological Assignment (10%):  On 1 class session prepare in advance a paper of approximately 4 double spaced pages (i.e., approx. 1,000 words) showing either how the theology of a particular General Epistle contributes to the canon or how a chapter or pericope within the book contributes to the overall theology of the epistle itself.

(5) Commentary Review (15%): Write a critical review comparing and contrasting at least two of the required commentaries below.  General guidelines on book reviews are available in the Assignments folder in the Course Center.   

(5) Final Exegetical Paper or Project (30%): a paper on a passage or topic of your choosing related to the General Epistles. 

A= Exceptional work: outstanding or surpassing achievement of course objectives

B= Good work: strong, significant achievement of course objectives

C= Acceptable work: essential achievement of course objectives

D= Marginal work: minimal or inadequate achievement of course objectives

F= Unacceptable work: failure to achieve course objectives

email for the lectures

Required Reading

Calvin's Commentary on Catholic Epistles

Manuscripts of the Catholic Epistles

Disputed Books of the New Testament

Ancient Cannon Lists

Luther's Antilegomena

The Johannine Comma

Biblical Art for the Catholic Epistles



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Irenaeus on the General Epistles
James, First Peter, First and Second John--
As far as I could tell, Irenaeus does not quote from Second Peter, Third John or Jude

Irenaeus was a church leader who lived from roughly AD 120 to AD 200.  He was a disciple of Polycarp who was a disciple of the apostle John. In his books, Against Heresies, Irenaeus quotes extensively from almost every book in the New Testament (and even calls it the New Testament). It is clear that he regards the New Testament writings as sacred. This is significant because some modern writers claim that the New Testament wasn?t established until ?powerful? church councils in the fourth century AD met to select the books they wanted, and to throw out the rest. There were a couple of  church councils that discussed the New Testament canon near the very end of the fourth century AD (The Council of Hippo in AD 393 and  the Third Council of Carthage in AD 397), but they essentially approved the books that the church had been using for a very long time. Irenaeus writes 200 years before these councils and his New Testament is essentially the same as theirs. The following quotes are from Against Heresies by Irenaeus. Quotes in bold are either directly from the New Testament or are Irenaeus? view of the New Testament.

Irenaeus: James

Irenaeus; Against Heresies: Book IV

Chapter V

3. And teaching this very thing, He said to the Jews:

"Your father Abraham rejoiced that he should see my day; and he saw it, and was glad"  (John 8:56)

What is intended?

"Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness." (Romans 4:4; James 2:23)

Note:  The above citation may be from Romans rather than James since the next time Irenaeus quotes this verse is clearly from Romans:

Chapter VIII.

 1. Vain, too, is [the effort of] Marcion and his followers when they [seek to] exclude Abraham from the inheritance, to whom the Spirit through many men, and now by Paul, bears witness, that

"he believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness." (Romans 4:4; James 2:23)


Irenaeus:  Petrine Epistles

Irenaeus; Against Heresies, Book III

Chapter XVI

9. This he does not utter to those alone who wish to hear: Do not err, [he says to all: ] Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is one and the same, who did by suffering reconcile us to God, and rose from the dead; who is at the right hand of the Father, and perfect in all things;

"who, when He was buffeted, struck not in return; who, when He suffered, threatened not; " (1 Peter 2:23?)

and when He underwent tyranny, He prayed His Father that He would forgive those who had crucified Him. For He did Himself truly bring in salvation: since He is Himself the Word of God, Himself the Only-begotten of the Father, Christ Jesus our Lord.

Irenaeus; Against Heresies: Book IV

Chapter IX

2.  neither shall we look for another Christ and Son of God, but Him who [was born] of the Virgin Mary, who also suffered, in whom too we trust, and whom we love; as Isaiah says: "And they shall say in that day, Behold our Lord God, in whom we have trusted, and we have rejoiced in our salvation; " and Peter says in his Epistle:

"Whom, not seeing, you love; in whom, though now you see Him not, you have believed, you shall rejoice with joy unspeakable; " (1 Peter 1:8)

Chapter XVI.

5. [All this is declared, ] that we may know that we shall give account to God not of deeds only, as slaves, but even of words and thoughts, as those who have truly received the power of liberty, in which [condition] a man is more severely tested, whether he will reverence, and fear, and love the Lord. And for this reason Peter says

"that we have not liberty as a cloak of maliciousness," (1 Peter 2:16)

Irenaeus; Against Heresies; Book V

Chapter VII

2. And this it is which has been said also by Peter:

"Whom having not seen, you love; in whom now also, not seeing, you believe; and believing, you shall rejoice with joy unspeakable." (1 Peter 1:8)

For our face shall see the face of the Lord and shall rejoice with joy unspeakable,-that is to say, when it shall behold its own Delight.


Irenaeus:  Johannine Epistles

Irenaeus; Against Heresies Book I

Chapter XVI

3. And John, the disciple of the Lord, has intensified their condemnation, when he desires us not even to address to them the salutation of "good-speed; "for, says he,

"He that bids them be of good-speed is a partaker with their evil deeds; " and that with reason, "for there is no good-speed to the ungodly," says the Lord. (2 John 1.11)

Irenaeus; Against Heresies, Book III

Chapter XVI

5.  -foreseeing these blasphemous systems which divide the Lord, as far as lies in their power, saying that He was formed of two different substances. For this reason also he has thus testified to us in his Epistle:

"Little children, it is the last time; and as you have heard that Antichrist doth come, now have many antichrists appeared; whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us: but [they departed], that they might be made manifest that they are not of us. Know you therefore, that every lie is from without, and is not of the truth. Who is a liar, but he that denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is Antichrist." (1 John 2:18-22)

8. All, therefore, are outside of the [Christian] dispensation, who, under pretext of knowledge, understand that Jesus was one, and Christ another, and the Only-begotten another, from whom again is the Word, and that the Savior is another, whom these disciples of error allege to be a production of those who were made Aeons in a state of degeneracy. Such men are to outward appearance sheep; for they appear to be like us, by what they say in public, repeating the same words as we do; but inwardly they are wolves. Their doctrine is homicidal, conjuring up, as it does, a number of gods, and simulating many Fathers, but lowering and dividing the Son of God in many ways. These are they against whom the Lord has cautioned us beforehand; and His disciple, in his Epistle already mentioned, commands us to avoid them, when he says:

"For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. Take heed to them, that you lose not what you have wrought." (2 John 7-8)

And again does he say in the Epistle:

"Many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know you the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God; and every spirit which separates Jesus Christ is not of God, but is of antichrist." (1 John 4:1-3)

These words agree with what was said in the Gospel, that

"the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." (John 1: 14) Wherefore he again exclaims in his Epistle,

"Every one that believes that Jesus is the Christ, has been born of God; " (1 John 5:1)

knowing Jesus Christ to be one and the same, to whom the gates of heaven were opened, because of His taking upon Him flesh: who shall also come in the same flesh in which He suffered, revealing the glory of the Father.